Thought for the Day - Rev Lucy Winkett
We joke about old age. It’s as if humour can keep the prospect of getting older at bay. Bette Davies famously warned that “old age is not for sissies” and the American actress Phyllis Diller tried to make the best of getting older by remarking “I’m at the age when my back goes out more than I do”.
But despite our attempts at humour, for many, ageing in the 21st century in the UK isn’t funny. From recent exposes in care homes to the shocking details of 8 different carers in a week arriving in your house to help you go to the loo, how we live when we’re old and who’ll pay for it is a pressing modern concern. If you’re preparing for today to be a disrupted day, because you are on strike or because you are taking a day off work to look after children not at school, or if you are planning on marching in London or you’re in a longer than usual queue at the airport, you will have varying feelings about today’s industrial action. But the underlying theme at the heart of this dispute over pensions - is something that affects all of us; the prospect of ageing and our life in old age.
On Monday, Andrew Dilnot will deliver to the government his much anticipated report on the care of older people in our society in the light of the changing demographic of England and Wales. The principle of society being organised such that caring for older people is a task shared between all of us is one that has been important since the 1948 legislation that founded the National Health Service. The Dilnot report is likely to try to re-cast the balance between public and privately funded care and will address really difficult issues of possibly capping care provision, and the vastly differing needs of an ageing population and how to fund this. We don’t talk about our true experience of ageing very honestly most of the time; we might mention a new ache or an inability to remember names; but do we talk about worrying over something unresolved in our past, or our loneliness as we grieve for our friends, or our rage at a newly enforced dependence on strangers. Sometimes the truth is too raw to acknowledge and so before we get to old age, we ignore it, living for today when we’re younger and not saving enough to sustain us in old age.
Social and political solutions to a demographic problem will be debated fiercely over the coming months, but underneath the practical negotiations will lurk thoroughly human fears about our bodies and minds as we age. Alongside these concerns, our spirits need attention too. The second century Christian writer Irenaus wrote that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. This means that our intrinsic dignity does not diminish in the eyes of God as we age. This innate dignity is at the heart of the debate about pensions and care and the funding implications of living in an ageing population will demand both collective imagination and individual commitment to preserve it and protect it.